Media Relations Short Course: How to Think Like a Reporter
Your volunteer leadership position, whether for the Farm Bureau or another agriculture group in the industry, requires a lot from you. Often, it means talking to the media. Even with media training, the experience can be intimidating. Like any area, “tricks of the trade” exists. One of the best strategies for understanding the media is trying to think like the media.
A few years ago, I had a conversation with Ilana Lowery former editor-in-chief of the Phoenix Business Journal and now Arizona Director of Common Sense Media. Her overall advice suggests that we try to put ourselves in the place of the reporter. Understanding what motivates and drives the reporter’s focus gives you an inside track of how to work with them.
The five points nearby are the big takeaways from our conversation and a tool I regularly use when helping the Center for Rural Leadership’s Project CENTRL Effective Communications classes. As a leader in your industry, these points will help you as well.
- Answer the question. Try to answer the question, “Who Cares?” Every time someone pitches a story, the overriding, nagging question in a reporter’s mind is, “Who cares?” Why should the reporter cover this story? When you write your pitch or press release or are simply jotting down a “talking point,” be sure you can answer that question. This is about the content the reporter or blogger provides to their core demographic, their audience. Consider this powerful statement: “How does my story affect and impact their audiences?” If you can understand their audience (readers and viewers), you can probably satisfy the reporter’s “who cares.”
- Understand the medium. Some stories have great visuals and are perfect for TV, video, or print. For example, the demolition of a sporting arena is visually appealing but isn’t as impactful for radio news. Think about the elements available to you and how they can complement your words and storytelling.
- Put a face to your story: News is about people. People love remarkable stories. Yes, a quote from an author, CEO, or board member can suffice, but it’s dull. Look for a person who has been directly affected by your news. They will tell a much better and different tale. They can get to the emotion because they experienced something. It’s the connection to the audience. It’s all about the human factor. What’s your story? Your experience? Often, it’s compelling when you explain your own personal experience as it relates to the issue the reporter is trying to gather.
- Find something new. A good reporter will ask the question, “What’s new here?” Has something happened that we haven’t covered yet?” Look for new statistics, updates, or a fresh angle. Clue: In the word “news” is the word “new.”
- Give them the right tools. Like you, news decision-makers want things to help make their jobs easier. If a radio reporter, they need a voice or a sound bite for an on-air newscast. They don’t need a cheesy photo. It’s radio!
Finally, if you find yourself regularly interviewed by the media because of your leadership position, or simply because you have a compelling story, below are questions you should ask every time the media calls and before the interview takes place.
- What is your deadline? This lets you know the time constraints and whether you can even accommodate the reporter.
- Can you share one or two of your questions in advance, so I have an idea about your story angle? This is fair to ask since you need to understand what they are trying to learn from you.
- When will the story come out? This allows you to watch for when the story airs or drops in the publication.
- So I understand, can you explain your audience and main viewers? This will also help you tell the story.
These pre-questions before an interview have always helped me make the process and experience so much more effective for myself and the farmers and ranchers I connect with the media.
Editor’s Note: Watch for Arizona Farm Bureau to feature a new Effective Communication Seminar in 2024 to be made available to all our volunteer leaders. This article originally appeared in our September 2023 issue of Arizona Agriculture.